If Pixels is your first time actually watching an Adam Sandler film, you will probably find it hard to believe that this man was once quite funny. Yes, it's been a very long time since he actually made a funny film – the days of Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates are a long way behind us. And he even showed us some decent acting chops in Punch-Drunk Love and Funny people. None of that is evident in Pixels, which sees Sandler sleepwwalking through a film that, with a decent concept at its core, should have been much, much better than it is.
Pixels opens well, with a flashback to 1982 and 13-year-old Sam Brenner (Anthony Ippolito) down the arcade playing video games with buddy Will Cooper. Brenner enters a world championship, but loses the Donkey Kong final to rival Eddie Plant (Dinklage). For some reason, footage of the contest is shot into space as part of a time capsule, and many years later, aliens intercept the NASA probe and misinterpret it as a declaration of war. So they send assault squads to destroy the Earth, said squads taking on the form of 8-bit versions of Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Centipede, Frogger and so on – all the 80s classics. Brenner (Sandler) is recruited by best pal Cooper (James) – who is now THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES! – to use his awesome gaming skills to defeat the invaders.
This film has so much wrong with it that it's hard to know where to begin. It's a decent concept, but so poorly handled that you have to wonder how director Columbus ever got a start in Hollywood. This is the man who wrote Gremlins and The Goonies, and directed Home Alone, Mrs Doubtfire and the first two Harry Potter films. So he does have a bit of a track record for doing decent work, but he really let this one get away from him. It's yet another film where Sandler thinks that just turning up on set and boredly reciting his scripted dialogue is good enough for an audience. It's a film that thinks Paul Blart: Mall Cop would make a good US president (to be fair, he's still far better than George W Bush). It's a film that thinks being good at playing video games as a kid (Brenner, now in his 40s, is a loser who works as a home theatre system installer) translates to actually being able to drive cars fast to battle Pac-Man, or shoot a big gun at invading alien hordes.
But the worst offence commited by Pixels (apart from being devoid of laughs) is its attitude to women. It feel like a film made by people who actually hate and fear women. Monaghan plays Lieutenant Colonel Violet van Patten, a brilliant career woman and military weapons developer. All well and good, you might think – a decent role for an actress. Untiil you realise she is just there as a love interest for Sandler. Yes, that's believable – a woman liker HER falling for a crude, rude and boring man-child like HIM? But even more offensive is what they do with Krakowski, one of the most talented comic actresses around (her Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock was a work of genius). She plays the First Lady (as if a woman like her would marry Paul Blart!), but she gets about three lines in the whole film – all she has to do is stand around and look pretty on the president's arm. What a criminal waste of a talented woman. And don't get me started on Benson and her role as a "trophy" Lady Lisa, simply there to be won by Gad.
Pixels is nothing more than a masturbatory boys' fantasy, full of horrible, ugly men who have never grown up and women who deserve so much better. And so do cinema audiences. Pixels is not clever, it's not funny and it's not entertaining. It's not even worth getting angry with Sandler for executing such awfulness; the man, it seems, just no longer cares. It's time for him to retire and live off his millions and leave the film biz to people who actually do give a damn.